Since moving to Cornwall, I’ve made it my mission in life to mess with the Britishness of British baking. Not because British baking is bad. It isn’t; it’s fantastic. Have you eaten shortbread? Or scones? Or pain au chocolat? Or—wait a minute, that last one’s French, isn’t it? (And in case you’re not familiar with the stuff, it’s not pronounced like the English word pain, it’s closer to pan, and it’s basically a croissant with chocolate inside. Mmmm.)
So okay, we’re not talking about a tradition that goes back, unmixed and unmessed-with, to Alfred the Intolerable. British cooking has done what pretty much every culture does: it’s adapted, stolen, borrowed, and claimed as its own whatever bits happened to work—so much so that now people ask, with an almost straight face, “What’s more English than curry?”
How am I carrying out my mission? I’m baking, and I’m feeding my friends and neighbors. It all sounds so harmless, doesn’t it?
So here’s my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, because chocolate chip cookies are even more American than Mom and apple pie. They’re probably more American than the flag. The recipe’s in imperial measures. (Shouldn’t we start calling them American measures, by the way? The empire’s gone and—does any country other than the U.S. still use them these days? And I’m not sure how many people know what imperial measures means.) But back to my point, I’m not going to try translating it into anything sensible like the metric system because the last time I did lost three weeks of my life and didn’t get it right anyway. So forget it. Besides, what’s more American than an irrational and antiquated system of measuring that we inherited from a country that’s since abandoned it and which we will fight to the death rather than give up?
Am I off the topic yet?
The recipe was adapted from one my friend J. found in the Duluth, Minnesota, News Tribune. The introduction explained that the more sugar a cookie has, the more it spreads out in the oven. The original minimized the sugar, which suited me because my chocolate chip cookies had been turning into chocolate chip wafers and I like a thick cookie. I’ve cut the sugar back even further and substituted oatmeal for some of the flour. If that sounds healthy, don’t kid yourself, they’re lethal, but you can increase the sugar if you like. I’ve left the amount a bit vague (a scant ¼ cup, in one place) for exactly that reason. Not to mention because I’m exactly that sort of cook—a bit vague, probably even a bit scant.
If you want the cookies to turn out well (and why would you make them if you didn’t?), you have to find really good dark chocolate—preferably chocolate chips. In the U.S., that means semi-sweet—none of that milk chocolate mess. In the U.K., I’ve had a battle to find good chocolate chips. For years, all I could find were brown waxy things that tasted like buttons that had popped off an old-fashioned shoe. If that’s all you can find, don’t buy them. Chop up chocolate bars (I’ve used 70% chocolate) with the back of a knife and make chocolate chunk cookies, but chunks of chocolate bars don’t keep their shape the way chips do. They’re good but not the same. For some time now, friends have kept us supplied with American chocolate chips, which is a real luxury, especially when you look at the cost of postage, but recently I’ve discovered that Dr. Oetker’s make decent chocolate chips, even if they come in itty bitty bags and are overpriced. In the U.S., you can buy chocolate chips in industrial-size bags. We’re seriously serious about chocolate chips.
If you’re in other countries, I have no chocolate chip advice to offer, but I do know this: If you open the bag and taste them and they don’t taste like much, they won’t get any better when you stir them into the batter and bake them.
The recipe makes an insane number of cookies. (I did warn you that, as a cook, I’m a bit vague.) I freeze whatever we don’t eat on the first day and take them out when we have company. They’re good frozen. Maybe even better. Honest. I discovered this the time I hid them from myself and—surprise surprise—found them. And ate them on the spot.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 1/3 c. plain white flour
1 ½ c. rolled oats (any thickness will do)
2 tsp. baking soda (that’s bicarbonate of soda)
2 tsp. salt
12 oz. (that’s 3 sticks if you’re American) butter
Scant 2/3 c. brown sugar
Scant ¼ c. white sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Lots of dark chocolate chips (about 2 ½ c.)
Cream the butter and sugars. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, leaving some room for them to spread out.
Bake 9 – 11 minutes at 375 F., or 185 c., or 165 c. with a fan oven.
Cool 2 minutes or more on baking sheets before removing.